From The Smart Set:
I think Prakash gets closer to a true picture of what Mumbai is — if a city is anything — than my entire library of German history. The way history folds in on itself, repeats patterns over and over until never again. The way names or places or events can be linked across centuries, with vast emptiness between them. It does not always go Frederick William, so Kaiser Wilhelm, so Adolf Hitler. It does not always go, witches then Catholics then Jews now Turks. Prakash quotes Jonathan Raban in his first chapter: “The soft city of illusion, myth, aspiration, nightmare, is as real maybe more real, than the hard city one can locate on maps, in statistics, in monographs on urban sociology and demography and architecture.” The soft city is more difficult to write about. It’s comforting to put things into straight lines and find cause and effect. But ultimately it’s a lie.
Near the end of Mumbai Fables, Prakash writes about the bazaars, the unexpected and chaotic arrangement of seemingly unrelated goods. (I think, yes, the flea markets in Berlin with their seemingly endless supply of old records, books, antique jewelry, electrical parts, baby clothing, VHS tapes, and artworks.) “The unexpected juxtaposition… functions like a montage, breaking up the smooth and evolutionary surface of historical representation. You see the city’s urban heritage not in a linear fashion but in the heretical arrangement of fragmentary and spatial combinations.” That collage, that jumble, is much more revealing about the city’s inner workings.